A recent headline at hartfordbusiness.com caught our attention: “Vo-tech instructor shortage is manufacturing’s biggest test.” The story warned of a rising shortage of career and technical instructors to help prepare a new generation of talent to replace retiring workers at Connecticut manufacturing plants.
Hmm, we wondered, is this a regional blip or a national trend? It didn’t take much digging to unearth similar stories all over the country:
In California, “Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers.” In Minnesota, “Where are all the career and technical educators?” and “Career and technical education shortage must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In Michigan, “Shortage of qualified instructors a challenge for school CTE programs.” In North Dakota, “Career, tech ed struggle with teacher shortages.”
National indicators bear out the headlines. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Education listing, many states projected teacher shortages in career and technical (CTE) education, among other subject areas.
What’s Going On?
Several factors appear to be at play. Schools have been rolling out new, robust CTE programs—and student interest in CTE is growing. CTE is replacing traditional vocational–technical education, which has fallen out of favor. That’s because vo-tech typically did not prepare students for education after high school, which is now essential for most middle and high-skilled jobs. Today, the best CTE programs provide rigorous academics, applied learning experiences and, in some cases, recognized credentials. CTE also offers pathways to both postsecondary education and attractive careers in high-demand, fast-growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering, environmental services, health informatics, information technology and finance.
The bench of qualified teachers is inadequate to meet this demand. As vo-tech programs declined, many postsecondary institutions eliminated teacher education programs focused on this specialty. To boost the supply of teachers, some states are offering alternative certification or relaxing CTE teacher licensing requirements, which may require specialized skills and even years of industry experience. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, don’t come close to compensating for this level of expertise, but lowering standards risks hurting students.
Looking to the Business Community for Solutions
Licensing changes alone will not be enough to staff up CTE programs. Instead, states are looking to new approaches and new collaboration with industry, which benefits from workforce preparation by CTE programs.
There seems to be overwhelming interest nationwide in closer collaboration with the business community. In a 2016 report by Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 98 percent of 47 state CTE directors surveyed said that increasing access to “industry experts”—people with both knowledge and experience in a specific industry and the knowledge, skills and abilities to support students and collaborate with teachers—is a key priority area today in high schools. Moreover, 100 percent said that it will be an increasing priority in the future. This report champions the role of industry in supporting CTE, and suggests that industry experts could serve as part-time or adjunct high school instructors, career advisors or counselors, mentors and career coaches, and advisors for school CTE organizations.
In California, a recent policy brief offers a similar set of solutions to the “severe” shortage of CTE teachers, where 67 percent of high schools with career pathways programs reported that recruiting and retaining instructors with appropriate credentials is challenging or very challenging. “Industry partners are crucial to addressing this shortage,” according to this policy brief. Among other recommended solutions: more funding for CTE teacher preparation, pathways to teaching for employees within industry sectors, pre-service and in-service CTE teacher preparation in industry, and industry mentorship to support new CTE teachers.
States and corporate organizations up for the challenge will need to tap into their repertoires of evidence--like state Vital Signs reports or local workforce data--to illuminate weak areas and build better strategies for connecting CTE teachers and industry partners with eager students.